Press freedom moves alongside responsibility, Minister Baryomunsi tells journalists
The Minister for ICT and National Guidance, Dr. Chris Baryomunsi has told journalists that whereas they yearn for total press freedom, they should have in mind that it moves alongside responsibility on their side.
“With this digital revolution, we see the emergency of social media and citizen journalism because everyone with a smart phone now turns themselves into a journalist. We have also seen unacceptable abuse of social media. Should we just keep quiet and leave this to happen? We are talking of press freedom but it goes with responsibility,”Baryomunsi said.
The minister was on Thursday evening during the commemoration of the world press freedom day celebrations organized at Mestil Hotel in Kampala by the Uganda Media Sector Working Group(UMSWG).
Baryomunsi said there is need for journalists to be responsible in the way they report issues concerning the country, noting that this way, they will be difference from other social media users.
“When you compare social media with our other media, there is an editor and sub editor for the latter who goes through the story before it comes out. On social media, someone just sits on their phone and posts whatever they want. It is a challenge to us in government on how to regulate that.”
He noted Computer Misuse Act 2011 which provides for offensive communication and cyber harassment was passed to help deal with irresponsible members of the public who misuse social media.
“People were asking, why are we charging so and so with offensive communication? Well it is in the law. The only way you can challenge it is by going to court or through your Member of Parliament to cause an amendment but as the law stands now, that is what it is. If you offensively communicate, you are charged in accordance with the law. If court proves the offence you will be punished.”
“The question has been whether someone should just use their computer to hurl insults as they wish and we say this is press freedom? We should promote press freedom and speech but it goes alongside responsibility. We should be free to speak but also do it responsibly. Why should someone declare me dead when I am not? “
The minister however said media should always be free to do its job without anyone hampering it.
He noted that this is the government policy and that any contravention to this is done on an individual level.
“I have insisted in many fora where security officers are that media should be given freedom to practice their profession. Security has no right whatsoever to harass journalists because media practice is a service like any other,”Baryomunsi said.
Giving a keynote address, former Vision Group Chief Executive Officer, Robert Kabushenga urged journalists to be prepared for the digital revolution which has kicked off.
He noted that journalists ought to prepare for the revolution which he said is not far away.
“Not so many years ago, I could sit in a room with my producer and guests to host a talk show. Right now, I can sit on the roadside with my smart phone and conduct a talk show. Technology has moved so fast that traditional ways of doing journalism have become irrelevant,”Kabushenga noted.
He however said that this is an opportunity for journalists to benefit, but noted this will be for only those who have prepared for it.
“Examine the skills that will be needed for journalists in the new era because the digital technology world is not far. If you don’t pay attention to digital innovations, you will lag behind,”Kabushenga noted.
The function was held under the theme,” journalism under digital siege.”
At the same function, the Uganda Media Sector Working Group(UMSWG) was launched.
The UMSWG is a multi-sector platform focusing on restarting the conversation about journalism protection.
The National Association of Broadcasters(NAB)is part of the Uganda Media Sector Working Group.